Beethoven's Romantic legacy dominates concert halls and record libraries the world over. Last night at the Hall of Instruments, the Smithsonian Chamber Players gave a concert that focused on works from the composer's early Vienna days.
As is their custom, the players performed on period instruments (or a reasonable facsimile thereof, in the fortepiano's case), which brought an authenticity, and an inimitable warmth, to each selection. These best intentions, however, could not do much to help the opening Sonata in G Minor, Op. 5, No. 2. The piece lacks virtuosic fire, hence any real character and excitement. Cellist Kenneth Slowik's parched tone only made matters worse.
Guest soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson turned things around with her accounts of four lieder and the concert aria, "Ah! perfido." Pinpoint enunciation and phrasing were constants, as was an opulence of color and drama. Her portrayal of the sce na and aria from "Ah! perfido" gave a new dimension to the agitated style.
Keyboardist James Weaver and violinist Marilyn McDonald joined Slowik for the Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 3. Dynamic extremes and plenty of sforzandi are more in keeping with the rebellious Beethoven, and the players really dug in their heels. Weaver's ceaseless legato approach kept everyone in line, most noticeably in the finale, when the ensemble built up a great head of steam only to expire, pianissimo.